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Ministries differ over regulating OTT platforms

Key ministries are split over the issue of whether to regulate over-the-top (OTT) players, or apps, such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have backed the idea of regulating OTTs, or apps, from the perspective of national security and public safety. The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) is against any kind of regulation at this stage.

The ministries have submitted these views as part of a consultation process undertaken by the DoT over the issue of regulating apps.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has not given its comments. Officials familiar with the matter said MIB believes that content and online news come under its domain and no other department should be involved.

DoT, according to officials, has collated these views and sent a reference on Thursday to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), asking the regulator to relook its 2020 recommendations on OTT apps. The regulator in September 2020 had ruled out the need to regulate such apps but had said it would review its stance periodically.

In its reference, the DoT has said that a mechanism should be evolved wherein it has powers to selectively ban OTT apps or content to check spread of misinformation. “The need to regulate OTT apps is urgent so as to ensure data security and protection of consumer privacy,” said an official, who didn’t want to be quoted.

Before sending the reference to Trai, DoT had undertaken an inter-ministerial consultation on the issue. As per the comments received by DoT, the MHA wants apps to be regulated from the perspective of national security and public safety, backing a view of the DoT.

Internet Activists Oppose Regulations

“The DoT feels that there should be a mechanism through which it should be able to control and analyse real-time, so that the spread of misinformation on such apps can be stopped,” said an official aware of the matter.

However, MeitY disagrees with DoT and feels that the 2020 recommendations of Trai are good enough for now and no regulation should be put in place for OTT players.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has said that OTT apps should be brought under the licensing regime, primarily universal licence, as they offer same set of services.

The regulator is now expected to come out with a consultation paper, seeking comments from all the stakeholders, after which it will finalise its recommendations. Typically, while the DoT can deal with communication apps which are providing similar services like telcos, other social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook come under MeitY.

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